The Babysitter- When a movie isn’t quite sure of the tone it wants to take one tactic is to just keep throwing visuals at you and Babysitter excels at that tactic. I was never bored despite a plot that didn’t make a ton of sense but was consistently funny, eerie and bloody. If you want something funnier go Adventures in Babysitting and if you want darker go Rosemary’s Baby but this movie sits nicely in between.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets- Let’s do a quick Q&A:
When did The Fifth Element come out? 1997. Really? Yup. But it looks so good, I thought it would at least have been the last 10 years. Nope. Twenty Years Old. Does it hold up? Hell yeah.
So with that information in tow, the same director, working in a connected universe with twenty years of improvements in CGI and personal skill should be able to make a movie just as good if not better right? The beauty of Element was its world building but it had a story at the core to latch onto when things got busy visually. Valerian builds on top of that world but the two main characters are so vapid and laden with soap operatic declarations it’s painful at times to hear them speak. The opening twenty minutes of exposition made it worth the watch but the remaining two hours does its best to snuff out that good will and Rihanna’s portion is particularly abhorrent (though not by any lack of effort or fault of her own).
MOVIE OF THE WEEK:
Manifesto- Like Tom Cruise, Cate Blanchett is never really bad in anything and mostly just elevates whatever project she is a part of. Unlike Cruise these days, she can embody characters to the point she disappears and you see only them. The plot of Manifesto is simple: Cate Blanchett delivers monologues on culture, life, art, and commerce that were written by famous thinkers and artists. It’s the execution that is complex and brilliant. You can’t just have her talking at you for 90 minutes it has to be delivered in a palatable fashion and Manifesto does just that with Blanchett transforming over and over and over. One character aside, she portrays (presumably) all women which makes the transformations all the more incredible. It’s not just wigs and prosthetics but accents and mannerisms that make it happen. The cinematography is astounding and the delivery method of monologues is very clever. It will require patience on the part of some but she is mesmerizing once you’re in.
Spellbound- This is a quaint documentary about spelling bees. It’s actually pretty intense towards the end. All of the kids are good natured about winning and losing and their parents are pretty chill so you don’t root for or against anyone. As a former spelling bee contestant, it’s comforting to see that had I gone past school or regional competitions I wouldn’t have lasted long. These kids are studying other languages just so they can understand the roots of words. No thanks. I would like to point out that this 2002 movie is before the advent of Netflix and the ability to watch a million documentaries. No one here knows how to act in front of a camera, lights and interviewers and they are filmed in very makeshift environments. Some choice samples:
-One man says of his employee who is Mexican: “They’re not all bums and tramps.” This is while his wife sits next to him, knitting and not looking at the camera.
-A teacher talks about the positive attributes of a student while standing in the middle of a classroom. Mid-sentence she takes the giant stuff animal she is holding and walks away while still talking.
-A white parent says about his daughter’s spelling bee chances: “Competition is more important in American culture than Punjabi culture.”
-Another teacher says of her students: “I love seeing other Indians come in. They have the best work ethic.”
Are these last two things true? I don’t know but it seems a pretty big brush to be painting with. If you look at the champions list from every year since 2002 it would seem the last statement is true but maybe they’re just inherently good spellers. Oh shit, is that racist? Sorry.
Over the Top- These are the lyrics by Robin Zander you hear when this film opens:
“The miles go by/Like water under the bridge/ Reach for tomorrow/ With the new sunrise/The road before us/ Leading to what we need/ Right from the start/ Follow our hearts/ Giving more than we receive”
You know with that kind of lyricism things are about to get deep. We are going to have emotions and conflict and apologizing for unknown mistakes. Lots of apologizing. Like every good eighties movie, this one is going to end in a competition but there’s a lot of dicking around and child custody issues that need to be dealt with first. I won’t spoil it, but every decision Stallone’s character Lincoln Hawk (yep) makes in trying to reconcile or be with his son is a bad one, sometimes even endangering the child’s life. Speaking of the child, I could have used a bit more endangerment and possible removal from the story altogether as he is just delaying a sweet arm wrestling competition. I will close with more song lyrics from this movie and please keep in mind there is no real adult love interest in Over the Top. It’s about a father and son. “Can you meet me halfway, right at the borderline/Is where I’m gonna wait, for you/ I’ll be looking out, night n’ day/ Took my heart to the limit, and this is where I stay/ I can’t go any further than this/ I want you so bad it’s my only wish.”
Little Accidents- Set in a small mining town, this is a simple tale of a missing boy’s mother and the lone survivor of a mining accident. Aside from a little interpersonal drama, there is not a large story arc here but the small parts are performed admirably by everyone involved and its shot well. Chloe Sevigny as a mining wife is something I never thought I’d see, but she’s a good actress so I’m just dumb I guess. You can be an indie goddess and play normal people (see: Parker Posey). The cover of this movie is really selling it as an Elizabeth Banks movie and she’s in it but it’s slightly misleading as a trio of characters get equal screen time, often times sharing it.
Sunset Boulevard- A series of events leads a writer to living in the home of a reclusive silent film era star who wishes to make a comeback. This film contains the classic “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille” line because Cecil B. DeMille is actually in the film. I think sometimes it’s important to point out those things because movies often get boiled down to quotes like “You can’t handle the truth!” or “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” but they are so much more substantive than their taglines and the same can be said here. The aging movie star clinging to her youth via a young man. A mysterious butler always lurking in the shadows with unknown motives. This is the baseline for what’s going on and it was an experience watching it all unfold. I’m constantly impressed by how complex Hollywood can be when it chooses to do so. Old movies are not necessarily simple just because the technology is older and “times were simpler”. People have always been complicated and that will translate to film no matter what the era.
The Bad Batch- You could say that this is a “sophomore slump” for director Amirpour if you look at the critical response. Or you may consider it a failure if you consider the funding for her first and second films (56k vs 6mil). Yet, all I could see on the screen was more one of a kind storytelling and visuals from a consistently innovative and intelligent writer/director. There is more star power with less dialogue this time around in a bleak wasteland of cannibals and Mad Max style scooter drivers. This is much different than her last film and kudos to her for getting away from what’s familiar and what made her popular.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)- I believe this is the fourth Baumbach film I’ve seen this year. If you consider New York and bad fathers to be his genre then he is definitely back in his comfort zone. Whereas in The Royal Tenenbaums Ben Stiller seemed like he could be the antithesis son of Gene Hackman or Jesse Eisenberg acted the perfect acolyte to Jeff Daniel’s harsh wisdom in The Squid and the Whale, I never believed the people in Meyerowitz were related. It felt like a recreation of Tenenbaums but without the constructed lens of Wes Anderson to tie it together. Sandler yells a lot. Like, Happy Gilmore-esque yelling, so I don’t understand people fawning over him in this. He can definitely act it’s nothing new here but I am thrilled to see him away from his own movies for once. If you like this writer/director you will enjoy this but it’s retreading old ground.
The Big Chill- This movie has a great opening sequence which can be tricky to pull off but when done right can quickly set a tone for the entire movie. We are quickly and silently introduced to the main characters via a series of phone calls and all intercut by a man dressing himself or being dressed. After a mutual friend die’s a who’s who of 1980s icons (William Hurt again!) gather for the reunion and to rekindle old friendships and flames. Movies like this without sharp contrast or hazily defined conflicts suffer from zero risk. This is a good movie but the most notable thing to happen to these characters was off screen before the film started. Everything else is just them catching up. Not to say they didn’t grow or that watching them interact was uninteresting. When the credits rolled over them talking in the kitchen I felt it was a fitting way to end it. They’re going to keep talking so we’re gonna wrap this movie up when they’re not looking. I do miss Kevin Kline. I mean he’s still kicking but I miss him being prominent in films. Did you know he’s married to Phoebe Cates? Nobody had money on that.